LAWRENCE — In partnership with colleagues at Wichita State University (WSU), University of Kansas researchers from the Achievement & Assessment Institute’s Center for Educational Opportunity Programs (CEOP) will work for the next seven years to evaluate the effectiveness of a federally funded college access and retention program for Wichita students in the high-school graduating class of 2020.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) employ intensive, hands-on efforts to transform youth from disadvantaged backgrounds — low-income households, first-generation students and students with disabilities — into college success stories. They start with students in middle school, following cohorts of seventh-graders through high school and their first year of college. The goal is to raise the expectations of students and their parents, teach personal resilience and change the climates of their schools to gear them up for college.
WSU was recently awarded two new GEAR UP grants to fund programs benefiting select USD 259 middle and high schools. Both grants provide $740,000 a year for seven years and will serve about 2,000 students in the district. The new funding will support two of the GEAR UP programs at WSU in partnership with Wichita Public Schools: North Wichita GEAR UP, led by Riccardo Harris, executive director, and South Wichita GEAR UP, led by Vic Chavez, executive director. The programs provide opportunity and college access services to four USD 259 high schools – North, West, South and Southeast – and nine associated middle schools.
CEOP researchers Karin Chang and Meghan Ecker-Lyster will track student outcomes, make quarterly visits and conduct interviews during the school year as part of their evaluation. Chang, the center's director of evaluation, said that their evaluation will contribute to a growing research base on the effectiveness of college access programs like GEAR UP.
“The primary focus in GEAR UP is on student support — nurturing their development, curiosity and social and academic skill sets to create expectations of learning beyond high school,” Chang said.
In addition to tracking academic behaviors and postsecondary enrollment, the evaluation team will measure non-cognitive skill development, including grit and persistence. Emerging research suggests that social and non-cognitive skills are crucial ingredients to college enrollment and success, particularly for low-income and first-generation students.
GEAR UP objectives include improved academic performance, more rigorous curriculum such as college advanced placement classes, increased postsecondary enrollment and raised expectations for student achievement among students, parents and teachers. In fact, a key component of the program involves teacher development.
Ecker-Lyster said the evaluation will examine the program’s effect on school culture. “We’re looking for systemic development of a college-bound culture in the schools. So we’ll interview principals, teachers and support staff to gauge how that school culture is growing.”
Chang said that the evaluation provides a unique research opportunity.
“Broadly speaking, we want to see if the program is getting more Wichita students to attend institutions of higher education,” she said. “But one of the most exciting things about this project is that at the end, we’ll have seven years of data. We’re going to be able to track these kids over seven years to see changes in their aspirations and performance over time. There are very few seven-year cohort models like this out there.”
AAI is the umbrella organization for four specialized research centers at KU, including CEOP, which supports a wide spectrum of learners and provides educational information, counseling, academic instruction, tutoring, assistance in applying for financial aid and supportive encouragement to both students and their families. Programs help students overcome academic, economic, social and cultural barriers to higher education. CEOP programs serve students at KU and youth and adults in the Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City areas. CEOP partners with more than 70 community agencies and schools in the state, including school districts in Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City, Kansas, as well as the Kansas City, Kansas, Housing Authority, the Kansas City Career Center, the KU Center for Research on Learning and the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center in Leavenworth.
AAI’s other research centers are Agile Technology Solutions, the Center for Public Partnerships & Research and the Center for Educational Testing & Evaluation. AAI employs about 350 professionals, all committed to building partnerships, products and programs in educational practice, assessment and evaluation. These initiatives benefit children, adults, communities and publicly funded agencies at the local, state and national levels.
Achievement & Assessment Institute
The University of Kansas
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